Joint Press Conference by Secretary Carter and Gen. Votel on the Counter-ISIL Coalition, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  -- (inaudible) -- everybody.  Thank you for being here.  I appreciate it.  Good afternoon to everyone.

I want to begin by thanking all of my counterparts, all of the ministers of defense from all of the nations represented here today at another one of our full counter-ISIL meetings of defense ministers from the entire coalition.

This is something we've done and we're going to do periodically, and I thank them for joining us as we continue to rigorous evaluate, plan the next steps of and further accelerate our campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.  And critically -- that is a critically important time for the military campaign, and we had a very productive discussion.

Thanks to our global coalition, to our clear and deliberate campaign plan, our dedicated -- (inaudible) -- forces and the sacrifices of our countries' military personnel, we now have momentum in this fight and clear results on the ground. 

And today, we made the plans and the commitments that will help us deliver ISIL the lasting defeat that it deserves.  I'm going to provide a brief update on these conversations, after which General Votel and I will take your questions.

By the way, Joe's been doing an absolutely spectacular job as our CENTCOM commander.  And running this campaign on a daily basis, and he delivered excellent presentations to the group here.  So I very much appreciate it.

As I said earlier today, our coalition's military campaign plan has three objectives.  First, to destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Iraq and Syria.  That's necessary, but it's not sufficient.  As recent attacks remind us, ISIL safe havens threaten not only the lives of Iraqi and Syrian people, but also the security of our own citizens.

And the sooner we defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the safer our countries will be.  

So our second objective is to combat ISIL's metastasizes everywhere they emerge around the world.  And third, and most important, to help protect our homelands.

In January this year, we updated our comprehensive coalition military campaign plan to accomplish the military aspects of these three objectives.  And we've pursued a number of deliberate decisions and actions to accelerate this plan and hasten ISIL's lasting defeat.  

And since then, in play after play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling it back towards Raqqah and Mosul.  By isolating these two cities, we're effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL's control over them.  

Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of our local partners and our service members, and more contributions from the nations that met here today, we seized opportunities, reinforced success, and taken the fight to the enemy.  

But we're not going to rest.  Today, we reviewed and agreed on the next plays in our campaign, which of course we won't discuss publicly yet, but let me be clear, they culminate in the collapse of ISIL's control over the cities of Mosul and Raqqah.

Now, before I continue, I want to say that we're aware of reports of civilian casualties that may be related to recent coalition airstrikes near Manbij city in Syria, which is one of the last junctions connecting Raqqah to the outside world.  We'll investigate these reports and continue to do all we can to protect civilians from harm.

Being scrupulously careful to avoid civilian casualties and being transparent about this issue is a reflection of the civilized nature of this coalition.  

Getting back to the future campaign and the next plays, after detailing those next plays, we identified the capabilities and the support required to execute those plays.  Since our first full defense ministerial in Brussels in February, our nations, including the United States, have provided even more support to accelerate the campaign, as our local partners have made advances.

But we're all going to need to do more.  For the United States' part, President Obama decided to deploy an additional 560 troops to support the Iraqi security forces in their offensive to retake Mosul.  And on my visit to Iraq last week, where I met with Prime Minister Abadi and Defense Minister Obaidi, who by the way is here today and I was pleased to speak with him and he spoke to the other ministers several times -- I offered to share some of our hard-earned expertise in countering improvised explosive devices with the Iraqi security forces.

In fact, the director of our joint improvised threat defeat agency, Lieutenant General Mike Shields, is in Baghdad today meeting with Iraqi officials to discuss this topic, a pledge I made to Prime Minister Abadi last week.

And I can -- I -- I -- given the requirements that we spelled out to apply the capabilities needed in the coming steps in the coalition campaign, other countries in the room indicated their intent, like the United States, to contribute more.  I'm going to have to leave it to those countries to announce their own contributions, but I have to say, it was very encouraging to see so many countries be willing to do so much more across such a wide spectrum of capabilities, all the way from strike aircraft through to training and vital work in logistics, stabilization and other aspects.

I can name a few coalition countries that will be making new and additional contributions who have already indicated -- they made these public.  I'll just remind you.  

France is sending the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle back to the region to carry out airstrikes against ISIL.  Australia's committed to expanding their training of Iraqi police and border guards, which will be vital for security in Iraq after the defeat of ISIL.  The United Kingdom announced in recent weeks that it would deploy more -- more personnel to Iraq, adding more trainers and engineers to help the Iraqi security forces and so on.

Together, we're going to ensure that our partners on the ground have what they need to not only win the fight, but also to hold, to rebuild and to govern their territory.

The biggest strategic concern of this group of defense ministers was that the stabilization and governance effort will lag behind the military campaign.  Making sure there's no such lag must be a significant strategic priority for us.  We discussed it today and it will be an important focus of our conversation tomorrow at the State Department with our foreign ministry counterparts.

And of course, as I said earlier, destroying ISIL's parent tumor in Iraq and -- and Syria is necessary, but it's not sufficient.  ISIL's influence and activities continue to pose a threat to all our countries.  And today, we also discussed how we can continue to combat ISIL wherever it might attempt to take hold around the world and how our military campaign can best support our national government's efforts to protect our respective homelands and people.

We had a very full agenda today.  I was pleased to hear so many of my counterparts emphasize the importance they place on defeating ISIL.  I'm confident we made the plans and the commitments we'll need to build on our momentum and deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.

Thank you.  And General Votel and I will now take some questions.

STAFF:  We -- (inaudible) -- in the room.  And we'll being with -- (inaudible).  If you could identify yourself.

Q:  Hi.  Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, can you tell us whether you got any additional assurances during the meeting from the Turks about the operation of Incirlik Air Base?  And how concerned are you that some of that unrest in the country could have spillover effect into the fight?

And for General Votel, we've heard some rumblings about some of the military commanders believe that they are willing to look at additional U.S. forces if needed down the road.  And I'm wondering if you can say whether or not the -- any of the additional 560 troops have actually moved into Iraq.  And do you see that as sufficient for now and if not, for how long?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER:  OK.  I'll take the first question then -- and -- and General Votel can answer the second one.  

First one, with respect to Turkey, the -- the Turkish representatives were here at the meeting today.  I'm very pleased at that.  The minister could not make it for reasons that are very understandable.

I spoke to the Turkish Defense Minister yesterday and -- first of all, to tell him that I was glad that he was safe and -- and in -- that -- that his ministry was functioning, which he assured me that it was.  

And obviously to tell him -- that I had been concerned for him and that we support the democratically elected government of Turkey.

But on the military side, he assured me first, very clearly, that Turkey -- nothing that happened over the weekend will interrupt their support for our collective counter-ISIL campaign.

And with respect to bases like Incirlik, because it was a coup that involves some elements of the military, they've been very careful for awhile -- (inaudible) -- operations in a number of their bases, that includes Incirlik.  He assured me that they'll be returning to normal there at Incirlik shortly.

And so our campaign, and General Votel can speak to this, hasn't been affected by that at all and you're absolutely right.  There are alternatives to that.  

But again, he indicated to me that he expected operations to return back to normal.  It has pretty -- mostly to do with the power there at Incirlik -- very soon. 

So I was very pleased to -- to talk to him.  Let me ask Joe if he could add anything to that.  But I -- principally on the second question about --

GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL:  Yeah, thanks -- thanks for your question.  So we -- you know, with the recent announcement of the -- of the additional 560, we're doing the final planning preparation to -- to move those -- those elements in.

We have not moved any large numbers of that -- of that additional force in yet, but we will very, very shortly and so I -- I'm pleased with -- with the authorization we have to do that.  It will make a difference for us as we prepare for the next phase of the campaign.

To the second part of your question on future requirements, I won't get into too many detail there.  I will just tell you what we have tried to do is link our request for additional capabilities, whether they're U.S. or coalition, to specific objectives and we are trying to tie -- we're trying to achieve within the campaign.

So as we move forward, as we continue our campaign operation, I do think we will, as we've done with our -- with our coalition partners, we will look to add additional capabilities that are necessary for us to accomplish our objectives.

STAFF:  (off mic.)

Q:  Gentlemen, thank you.  Can you talk about the pace of expected operations of moving into Mosul, moving into Raqqah.  You said a couple times over the last few months it seems to be a little faster than expected in both cases, given one -- how Fallujah -- (inaudible).

What kind of time frame are you looking there and are you satisfied with the progress?  Also, can you give a bit of a report card of the -- the Manbij fighting, specifically the performance of the local fighters the Americans have been training, YPG, YPJ, et cetera?

SEC. CARTER:  Sure.  I'll start and Joe if you can follow up.  First of all, with respect to the positioning of forces for the envelopment of -- of Mosul in Iraq.

Just to draw -- give you a picture of the mechanics of that, this involves the training and equipping, first and foremost, of forces, mostly in the south, where we and our coalition partners do a lot of training, and then repositioning them.

That has gone right according to plan, including the Qayyarah West seizure, which has always been part of the plan.  The establishment of the base there, which our 560 will contribute to helping the Iraqis to establish.  That will be the southern-most envelopment of Mosul.

And then in the north, it's Kurdish forces -- which is why I have worked so closely, both with Prime Minister Abadi and President Barzani, so that -- to make sure that there's complete cooperation between them, which there is, because there are mostly Kurdish forces that will comprise the envelopment from the north.

So, that's all going to occur in the next few months, and Joe can add to that if he wants to.

And then last, on Manbij, my observation -- but Joe -- Joe would know that -- better, so I'll let General Votel speak to it.  But my -- my observation is that the -- the Syrian-Arab forces that are fighting in Manbij are fighting very hard and very well.  Obviously, we're in a support role there, advising, providing air support and so forth.

But they -- it has been a tough fight, but they've certainly been strong in carrying the fight to the enemy there.  But let me ask General Votel, both of us --

GEN. VOTEL:  Yeah, look thank you, Mr. Secretary.  So, on -- on both of your questions, first on -- I think one of the key things we took out of the -- I took out of the meeting this morning was, with respect to Mosul, was we shouldn't underestimate the amount of preparation necessary to take on an operation like that.  

It's a big city, two million people, large geographic area, so we want to make we're well prepared.  So, things like force generation, making sure we've got the right stabilization plan in place, and we've got the right political aspects in place here to help manage that city after the fight has gone, I think are important -- important aspects.  And I think we generally all coalesced around that idea this morning, as we talked about it.

With respect to Manbij, I -- I've been extraordinarily pleased with the performance of our partner forces, the Syrian-Arab coalition, in particular.  This is -- this is, as the secretary said, has been a very difficult fight.  This is an area that -- that the Islamic State is trying to hold on to.

And what I've been most impressed with is the deliberateness and the discipline with which our partner forces have conducted themselves.  They are moving slowly, they are moving very deliberately, mostly because they're concerned about the civilians that -- that still remain in the city of Manbij.

And I think that -- that that speaks very highly of their values and it speaks very highly of what they're -- of what they're about here.  And I think we've -- I think we've picked the right partners for this operation.

I'm very pleased.

SEC. CARTER:  Let me just second what General Votel said at the very beginning.  Most of our conversation today was not, in fact, about the movements of forces, because that was planned a long time ago.  And that's going fine.

Most of our conversations today was as General Votel indicated about -- about what happens after the defeat of ISIL in Mosul.  Stabilization plans, reconstruction plans and so forth.  And we're identifying the requirements there, which are large, because as General Votel indicated, it's a large city.

And it's that conversation that is -- lies behind my statements.  And I think the biggest strategic concern of the defense ministers here was for the stabilization and reconstruction, which are not purely military aspects of the campaign, and to make sure that our plan -- that the planning and the execution of them is in time for the execution of the military aspect.

STAFF:  So Helene and then we'll go to Reuters.

Q:  Thank you.

For both of you, I understand that you're talking now about what happens after Mosul and what happens after Raqqah.  But are you concerned at all that even with the military battlefield successes that we are -- that the counter-ISIL coalition is having, that you're winning the battle but losing the larger war as the attacks in Nice and other places show?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, as I've said, I think defeating ISIL in Iraq and Syria is absolutely necessary.  It's necessary because that's where ISIL arose.  That's where it claims to have a state based upon -- (inaudible) -- where it clams to have a capital.  And we need to destroy the fact and the idea that there can be a state based upon this ideology.  That has to be done in Syria and Iraq.

But that's not the entirety of the campaign.  The campaign extends to other parts of the world -- Afghanistan, Libya, and so forth.  And it extends to the protection of our homeland, because there are people who can either come there or who are there who are infected or affected directly or indirectly by this same ideology.

So, all three of those fronts are very important.  And Iraq and Syria, as I said, it's necessary to do that, but that's not enough.  That's not going to be sufficient to provide us entire protection.  We're going to need to do all three aspects of the campaign.

GEN. VOTEL:  I would just add that I thought we had a very clear-eyed discussion about ISIL this morning.  And, you know, we talked -- we talked about the fact that it's a connected network here; that what it does in Iraq and Syria does have impacts outside of the area.

But yet our focus on them in Iraq and Syria is necessary to disrupt that.  It's part of the process. 

The second thing we talked about is that they are vulnerable.  We are having success against them in a variety of ways -- their resources, their forces, their ability to hold terrain.  And so they are vulnerable and we are taking advantage of that.

And the third thing we talked about is that this is a very adaptive enemy.  And we should expect, as we've seen in the past, that they are going to move away from being a symmetric-type force to a more asymmetric-type force, a more terrorist-type force that we've seen.

And so I thought the discussion about that was very, very clear.  And I think everyone left with a good understanding that what we do is important, but as the secretary said, it won't be sufficient to address the global -- (inaudible) -- which we are also addressing.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, we have publicly heard from Kurdish officials about their frustration about not being invited to this defense ministerial.  Given the important role that they have played in the past in this counter-ISIL campaign, and as you talked about, the important role they're going to play in retaking Mosul from the north, why weren't they invited?  Was it any particular government, such as the Iraqi government, that had a disagreement about inviting them? 

And if I could just push you a bit more on the strike north of Manbij that appears to have killed more than 50 civilians, hundreds of airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition have targeted that area.  And human rights groups have sort of doubted that it could be anyone but the U.S.-led coalition.  So what does this say about the intelligence that's being used in this –counter-ISIL campaign?

SEC. CARTER:  OK.  Let me take the first part first.  Kurdish forces have been -- have performed spectacularly well in the course of the counter-ISIL campaign and make a very strong contribution.  The -- the -- therefore, the cooperation between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government under President Barzani is very important.

I spoke to both of them last week when I was in Baghdad.  I've spoken to both of them on many occasions, to make sure that we're all on the same page in the campaign so they know and Kurdish forces know that they're an essential part of the campaign.

And by the way, not only the United States but many of the other coalition partners are -- are supporting the peshmerga as well.  We're supporting them in salaries, other with equipment and supplies and so forth.  And so we make sure, and I make sure personally because I've made this promise to Prime Minister Abadi and to President Barzani, that I would make sure that our communications about the progress of the campaign between them was seamless and that it would conducted in the way that the Iraqi government under Prime Minister Abadi is conducting itself.

And we support this kind of conduct, which is a single unified, but also decentralized country that respects the variety in people.  And the -- I think the last thing I'll say -- (inaudible) -- is to -- (inaudible) -- Prime Minister Abadi has established and President Barzani and his -- his advisers are a very important part of a Nineveh popular mobilization committee, which is to think about events in Mosul after the collapse of ISIL's control very much along the lines of stabilization.

It's a complicated place and -- and with a number -- a complex social composition and a number of different groups of people, all of whom deserve a better life than the one they have under ISIL.

I'll just say one more thing.  I don't have anything much more to add, but I'll see if General Votel does, about your question about the Manbij.  I -- the -- I think the important thing I would stress is that we will conduct an investigation on any possible civilian casualties in this matter, as we always do, and we'll be transparent about that.

That is because that is the reflection of the values that we bring to this campaign, the values of the countries you saw in that room today who want to behave and conduct themselves in a civilized manner, and that means when you're -- when you're -- there's a possibility of something like civilian casualties, you promptly investigate it and are transparent about it.  That's what we're going to do.

GEN. VOTEL:  Mr. Secretary, I think you addressed it pretty well.  I would just add that, you know, I think the -- I don't think it's any kind of indictment of the intelligence community.  It is an extraordinarily dynamic situation up around Manbij right now, as we talked about a little bit earlier.  So it's a very difficult fight.

ISIL is -- is trying to -- trying to hold onto that area, so we do see them showing up at a variety of different locations.  And so when it's a dynamic situation like that, we have to -- we just -- we have to respond, and I think that's the situation in which we found this particular -- this particular operation taking place, which -- which we're currently investigating to kind of get to -- get to the facts about what actually happened there.

Q:  Thank you.  This is Pierre(inaudible).  My question is about the campaign -- (inaudible) -- today on the ground on local forces.  Is there any opening for other forces from outside Iraq or outside Syria to do the work on the ground, to fight on the ground?  Are you considering sending any troops?  Were you offered, during this meeting, troops from other countries -- (inaudible) -- from the coalition?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, the approach of the coalition, generally speaking, is to support and enable and empower the local forces.

That is in recognition of the fact that they will need to, after they expel ISIL from their territory, will need to hold and govern.  So in the long run, outsiders can help, but they can't substitute for local forces.  So our whole strategic approach is that. 

At the same time, you would be wrong if you didn't think that there were members of the coalition countries, including the United States, on the ground in Iraq and Syria.  There are.  It's -- but their job -- their principal job is to support these local, capable forces in achieving these objectives by bringing the full weight of everything the coalition has -- intelligence, air power, logistics, supplies, training and eventually stabilization and reconstruction -- to bring to bear to help them so that they can reclaim their territory from ISIL.

So that's the strategic role that they're playing.  But I emphasize that they are there, and we appreciate that on the part of our coalition partners.  And as the American secretary of defense, I -- there's no -- nothing I take more seriously than putting American service members in a situation that is inherently hazardous.

So, they are in that theater.  They're flying every day overhead, and there's inherent risk in that.  I just want to remind everybody that -- that there is risk here for our people and we need to respect that.  And they're performing so spectacularly.

But that's our role.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today.

Were any concerns raised today about, particularly from some of the Arab states, about the campaign expanding beyond the Middle East too quickly?  Or distractions coming up as a result?   I say this in light of the Brazilian issue coming up today with the concerns raised about the Olympics, and a group aligning themselves with ISIS there.

And then also, obviously, the ongoing discussion about what to do with Libya.  Thank you.

SEC. CARTER:  Well, there was discussion of the fact of and the possibility of further spread of ISIL around the world.  So I wouldn't say that wasn't discussed.  It was.  In fact, there was a session devoted entirely to that that was led, as it happens, by the French defense minister.

So this is a global coalition going after what is a global problem, no question about it.  So I've spoken a lot about Syria and Iraq simply for the reason that I described earlier, which is that that's where it began.  We need to take care of it there.

But you're absolutely right.  It's everywhere else, and we did talk about it.  

Anything to add?

GEN. VOTEL:  No, I think you got it, Mr. Secretary.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. CARTER:  Oh, I guess one other thing, Dan, I can say is certainly there's no one in the room from anywhere who believes that's dilution.  You used the word "dilution."  It's necessary.  I mean, we're going to have to do it.  So it's not a distraction.  It's an essential part of the campaign, these other -- other places.

So I wouldn't use that word for it.  These are essential things as well.  And we did talk about a number of them and our approach to them.  And I think we all recognize that that's part of the campaign, if that's helpful to you.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I have two questions about Turkey.  

Since the attempted coup last week, there has been a sweeping crackdown in Turkish society.  Just today, we've seen over 20,000 teachers being sacked.  Given that NATO membership does involve a commitment to democratic principles, do you believe that Turkey's membership in NATO could be at risk if this crackdown continues in the coming days?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Secondly, if I could just follow up on that, from the flipside, since the attempted coup, there has been a vigorous debate in Turkey about its own relationship with the West, President Erdogan, as I'm meeting President Putin in the coming weeks, have you received any indication or -- from the Turkish side in your conversations with them that they are reevaluating their relationship -either with the U.S. or with NATO?

SEC. CARTER:  Turkey's been a strong ally for decades as we face together all kind -- a great variety of problems, from the Cold War to today's counter-ISIL campaign.  So the alliance is very strong.  And our relationship's very strong. 

And as I said earlier, we respect and support the democratically elected government there and no, I don't have any indication from the -- as I said, I had a conversation with the Turkish Defense Minister yesterday and he assured me that Turkey's participation in and support for what we're talking here about today, namely the counter-ISIL campaign, is unchanged and he'd like to be here if he could, but obviously because of the circumstances, his delegation was here instead.  So there hadn't been any change.

Thank you.